Sofia shouldn’t be absent on any Bulgaria itinerary, and while you are there, stay a few days longer and enjoy one of these day trips from Sofia, Bulgaria.
Sofia shouldn’t be absent on any Bulgaria itinerary. The country’s capital is one of Europe’s most underrated capital cities, filled with gorgeous architecture, art galleries, inviting parks, and plenty of historical sites. Sofia deserves some serious exploration on your Bulgaria road trip.
After you have explored this city and visited all the delicious restaurants, we suggest you rent a car and explore some other destinations in Bulgaria. Using Sofia and the great selection of hotels as a base, there are several places you can visit on day excursions. The following are the best day trips from Sofia.
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1. Rila Lakes
One of Bulgaria’s most beautiful natural attractions, the seven Rila Lakes, is only 90 kilometers from the city and among the most beautiful spring destinations in Eastern Europe. This collection of glacial lakes is located at different altitudes in the highest mountain range in the Balkans. A hiking trail leads past each lake, ending at a viewpoint that overlooks all seven lakes. The hike takes three to four hours and is possibly the most incredible hike in Bulgaria.
2. Rila Monastery
While it bears the same name as the attraction above, the Rila Monastery has nothing to do with it. The only similarity is that it also lies in the Rila Mountains. This major cultural landmark was founded in the 10th century and is one of Bulgaria’s and the Balkans’ most significant monuments. The Rila Monastery is an incredibly colorful structure, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, indicating its enormous cultural and historical importance.
Sometimes regarded as the oldest continuously inhabited city in Europe and one of the oldest in the entire world, Plovdiv’s history goes back to the 6th millennium—that’s right, millennium—B.C. It’s a couple of millennia older than the Egyptian pyramids. Think about that for a second.
If you like antiquity, you can’t find a better place in the Balkans than Plovdiv. Unsurprisingly, the city is home to a wealth of historic monuments. The most important ones are the Ancient Theater, the Ancient Stadium, the Roman Forum, the remains of the 2nd-millennium-B.C. Thracian city of Eumolpias, and about 200 other archaeological sites.
4. Veliko Tarnovo
An old Bulgarian capital, Veliko Tarnovo, lies in the country’s north-central region. This destination is one of the furthest day trips from Sofia on this list. If you plan to use public transport, there is a direct train connection between Sofia and Veliko Tarnovo, but it still takes about four hours to get there. Make sure to catch the earliest train of the day.
If you are driving, the route takes just 2.5 hours. The main attraction here is Tsarevets Fortress, the most important and influential stronghold of the Second Bulgarian Empire.
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5. Krushuna Waterfalls
These cascading waterfalls near the village of Krushuna lie in the country’s north and make for one of the top Sofia day trips. Famous because of their remarkable landscape of travertine dams and lakes—people who have visited Plitvice Lakes in Croatia know what the result of this natural phenomenon can eventually be—these waterfalls are exceptionally photogenic, one of the top natural attractions in Bulgaria.
I highly recommend you to visit some of these Sofia attractions on one of the many Sofia tours on offer. It will save your nerves and provide you with unforgettable memories and an opportunity to learn closely about the history of sights.
6. Mount Musala
The Rila Mountains are the highest mountain range in the Balkans (see above) and are home to the Balkans’ highest mountain. Mount Musala, also known as Musala Peak, towers above the landscape, its peak 2,925 meters high – as is one of the must-visit Sofia day trips for outdoorsy types.
Surprisingly, the climb to the summit isn’t that technical or challenging and will reward travelers with fantastic views from the top. The area has impressive lakes, springs, and other minor peaks that add beauty to the awe-inspiring landscape.
You can quickly drive there from Sofia, climb the mountain, hike, and head back to the capital in one day. Count on four hours to reach the top and another four hours to get back down.
You may also take a private tour like this: Rila Mountains and The Seven Rila Lakes from Sofia, and you will have the pleasure of getting to the highest of all lakes – the Eye, the Tear, the Kidney, the Twins, the Trefoil, the Fish Lake and the Lower Lake and enjoy the incredible scenery revealed from there!”
7. Prohodna Cave
A karst cave near the village of Karlukovo in the province of Lovech, Prohodna Cave, is 262 meters long, making it one of the longest caves in Bulgaria. On the day trip from Sofia, you will see what it is famous for – the two holes in the ceiling, resembling two massive eyes. This cave isn’t popular among only hikers and cavers, but rock climbers and even bungee jumpers find some entertainment there.
One of Bulgaria’s most popular tourist attractions, Belogradchik, is attractive for various reasons. The town of Belogradchik is the base for all touristic activities, while the Belogradchik Rocks are arguably the area’s most significant landmark.
This collection of strangely shaped sandstone formations is an extraordinary sight, made even more impressive by their local folkloric tales. Another major highlight in Belogradchik is the Belogradchik Fortress.
The town of Melnik is an architectural preservation site in Bulgaria, with almost 100 of its buildings designated as cultural monuments. Interestingly, this is also the smallest official city in Bulgaria, home to no more than 400 people.
Additionally, Melnik is one of the best day trips from Sofia because of the nearby rock formations. The “Melnik pyramids,” sometimes referred to, are imposing sandstone rock formations in various shapes. To top it all off, there are also great vineyards in the area.
10. Vitosha Mountain
One of the most accessible day trips from Sofia is Vitosha Mountain. Located just outside the Bulgarian capital, this mountain massif forms the backdrop of the Sofia skyline. It is the city’s closest destination for outdoor recreation, like hiking, skiing, and rock climbing. Vitosha Nature Park, the oldest of its kind in the entire Balkans, encompasses the mountain, including the area’s most popular places. And there are many attractions to see and visit on Vitosha Mountain. These include the iconic Boyana Waterfall, the beautiful Cherni Vrah summit, the Dragalevtski Monastery, the Golden Bridges stone river, and many more.
If you’re looking to escape Sofia for a while, Vitosha Mountain is one of the places to visit in Sofia on a day trip. Although many visitors know of the locally famous mountain, few take the time to hike up it. It’s pretty easy to reach the top; no need to take an expensive tour with a guide or anything. Make your way toward the foot of Mount Vitosha using public transport (Bus 93 and 122 will get you there from the city center) and find one of many trails to start climbing.
If you’d like to do as little climbing as possible but still want to take in the excellent city views and breathe the fresh mountain air, Bus 66 will take you near the Aleko area, which is the highest you can climb using public transport. Sofia may well be the only European capital city with such a large mountain nearby. Don’t miss your chance to explore nature so conveniently; we guarantee it’s one of the best day trips from Sofia.
11. Bansko Ski Resort
Bansko Ski Resort is in the southwest of Bulgaria, about 160 km away from the capital, Sofia. The town of Bansko sits at the foot of the Pirin Mountain, with the Glazne River running through the town. From that description, you can guess that the Bansko ski runs and resorts are on Pirin Mountain itself, and its highest peak is Vihren.
This is the best ski resort in Bulgaria and the Bansko ski season is one of the longest. Ideal for skiing, snowboarding, après skiing, chilling out, and nature photography, Bansko Bulgaria ski holidays are a fantastic way to explore and appreciate the wonder of winter.
There is plenty to see and do around the resort for families, with a children’s ski school on-site and a kindergarten that takes children from 4-7 years of age. There are 18 runs, which take you through stunning natural beauty, with 70 km of pistes. As you can see, Bansko is large!
There are also 7 km of night skiing runs; the longest run measures 4.8 km. Enough statistics. Are you feeling itchy feet yet? A daily Bansko ski pass ranges from 50 Euros for adults to 20 Euros for children, so prices are competitive. (Please do check these before booking your Bansko ski package to be sure they have not increased)
12. Buzludzha Monument
This historic mountain summit in Bulgaria’s Central Balkan Mountains will make for a round trip from Sofia, but it’ll be worth it. Buzludzha is near Shipka Pass and the town of Kazanlak. It is famous for its now-abandoned Monument House of the Bulgarian Communist Party, which stands atop the peak. The mountain was the location of an 1868 battle between Bulgarians and Turks, while a group of socialists gathered at the summit to discuss the country’s socialist future.
Because of this historical character, the communist government in Bulgaria, which was under the influence of the Soviets, chose Buzludzha Peak as the site for a communist monument. Work started in 1974, but this flying saucer-shaped monument was abandoned after the fall of communism in Bulgaria in 1989.
You will need a car or other private transportation form to visit Buzludzha Monument on a day trip from Sofia. The building is closed off to the public to prevent vandalism and is currently listed as one of Europe’s most endangered heritage sites. However, you can still explore the mountain and walk around this striking and unusual landmark.
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If you want to learn more about Bulgarian culture and identity, go to Koprivshtitsa. Known for its significant role in the uprisings of April 1876, the town is also renowned for its typical Bulgarian architecture and folk music festivals.
14. Damascena Ethnographic Complex, Rose Valley
If you are in Bulgaria in June, head to the Rose Valley. Located in Central Bulgaria, the township of Kazanlak is blossoming with roses and holds a festival in celebration at harvest time.
Even though the rose festival and harvest are worth attending, Rose Valley is undoubtedly a place to visit at other times of the year, where you can wander through the Damascena Ethnographic Complex – the first private rose oil distillery. Here you can experience the rose distillation process and the sweet scent of delicate Damascena roses. Enjoy learning more about the production of pure organic rose essential oil (also known as the “liquid gold” of Bulgaria), wander through the museum, admire the frescoes and stop by the gift shop to buy yourself a gift to take home.
Driving from Sofia to Kazanlak is approx. 2 ½ hours, and the Damascena Ethnographic complex of Kazanlak is just a short drive from the outer regions of the town center.
With so many options for day trips from Sofia, Bulgaria, how will you pick just one Sofia day trip!?